Those Awkward Conversations

I attend service at a Unitarian Universalist congregation.  A couple of months ago, the Sunday sermon was given by people from different races, expressing what it is like to walk in their shoes.  I enjoyed all of the speakers, but one woman’s speech resonated with me.

The woman resembled me in a lot of ways.  She was white, about my same age, and grew up in a conservative town without a lot of diversity.  She watched “The Cosby Show” and listened to the stand up of Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock, and thought this entertainment informed her about the lives of African Americans.  Then she went to college.  She met and fell in love with a black man, and had three beautiful children.

She described a conversation her husband related to her, from when he was a teenager and his parents discussed what he should do when he is stopped by the police.  Not if, when.  How he should comply with their requests, be polite, even if he has done nothing wrong, even if the tone of the officers is demeaning and disrespectful.  Her speech laid heavy on my heart for days after.  I was troubled by the thought of a conversation parents don’t want to have, but are forced to broach because of the reality of their circumstances.  Having two small boys, I wondered what conversations like this would be part of my future.

This pondering once again filled my mind when I heard Donald Trump on a decade old interview discussing how he sometimes just starts kissing women, saying “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Like many people, this statement disgusted me.  I can not imagine someone who would say these things, who would treat more than 50% of the population with complete disregard.  How is it possible this man could be the president of the country in which I reside?  But I was more disturbed at the people who jumped to his defense, calling it “guy talk” or a stupid comment.  No, this attitude shows a complete lack of respect for women and should not be tolerated, ever.  Not by him, not by the wealthiest celebrity, the average worker, or the anyone else.  It is degrading and disrespectful.  But the reality is, this attitude is commonplace for many women.

I just finished reading Amy Schumer’s book, “The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo.”  In one of her essays, Schumer describes losing her virginity by waking up and finding her boyfriend inside of her.  She hadn’t given consent.  She didn’t even know it was happening until she woke up and discovered what he was doing.

“I want to use my voice to to tell people to make sure they have consent before they have sex with someone…My first time didn’t need to be perfect, but I would have liked to have known it was going to happen.  Or have been part of the decision.  Instead he just helped himself to my virginity- and I was never the same.”

Schumer’s book made me think back on my own experiences.  I remember hosting a party at an apartment I shared with my brother.  I drank too much and decided to go to bed.  I woke up a little while later to an acquaintance pawing me, trying desperately to wake me up.  My eyes shut tight, I pretended to be in the deepest slumber.  The man became more insistent, at one point pushing me roughly and not quite shouting “wake up!”  My brother must have heard his voice because he opened the door, saw what was going on and asked the man to leave.  I have thankfully never been raped.  But I have more than one story like this, more than a few.  Most women I know have at least one tale such as mine, many much much worse.

I am not saying all men are like this.  I am married to a very respectful, stand up gentleman.  I know many good men and would never make statements about all men.  But there is an attitude within a large population of our society that women are still second class citizens.  They are not to be taken seriously.  They are not worthy of respect.  When I hear Donald Trump’s comments, and the comments of those defending him, that attitude is all too clear.

I know one day, there will be an awkward conversation with my sons.  One they likely won’t want to engage in, but hopefully won’t be able to get out of their heads.  A conversation about consent, about how you don’t just grab a woman and kiss her, or anything else.  A discussion about how sex is not something to give or take, it’s something you share. (a line I stole from Schumer.)

Today, I engaged in another one of those awkward conversations with my son.  He went to the store with his dad and heard the radio on the news.  When he returned home, he told me “The radio says that Trump is not a nice guy.”

“No, I don’t think he is a nice guy.  I don’t like the way he treats women.”

“But my friend at school says Hillary is a liar.”

“Yes.  That might be true.  Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of good candidates in this election.  I hope we are learning our lessons and will choose better people next time.”

If only that was the case.  I’m an idealist.  I like to believe in the great good winning out.  But in elections like this, my beliefs are consistently being challenged.

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